How Does IoT Work?

There is still no comprehensive, general definition of the term “Internet of Things”. Instead, there are many different definitions that differ in detail. However, it is generally accepted that the term refers to the interconnection of everyday objects and industrial machines via the Internet as the Internet of Things. The corresponding devices receive a unique identity (address) in the network and can take over tasks fully automatically: this means, for example, that simple objects can communicate with each other anywhere, 24 hours a day, independently of human control.

Sometimes equipped with simple sensors and processors and connected via network technology, they collect information about their environment, evaluate it and pass it on to other networked objects.

Therefore, the Internet of Things is by no means limited to complex high-tech appliances or autonomous cars. Rather, there are many other applications: for example, Internet-enabled clothing and wristbands could monitor the wearer’s health status and transmit body values directly to the treating physician for evaluation. In agriculture, moisture sensors could trigger watering and nutrient delivery to crops in a cloud. The application possibilities are extremely diverse.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things is closely related to a number of technological developments and is strongly linked to concepts such as ubiquitous computing and artificial intelligence. A key feature is that the Internet of Things can turn ordinary objects into devices. They can be identified by an IP address, record states via sensors and have memory capacity via chips.

Embedded minicomputers allow them to control themselves, manage their environment and exchange data automatically. Sometimes, thanks to machine learning, they are even able to recognize and generalize patterns and draw conclusions to adapt to situations and continuously optimize themselves. Even simple radio technology is sufficient to convert physical objects into a transceiver system. With more complex communication technology such as 4G, connected devices are able to transmit large amounts of data to a cloud or other connected object over long distances without disruption.

The Internet of Things can involve a variety of technologies. While there is no universal definition of the term, the following characteristics are generally associated with the Internet of Things:

  • Data collection, storage and processing (e.g. a thermostat automatically measures the room temperature)
  • Communication between them (directly or via a Cloud, for example)
  • Interconnection (e.g. via a Bluetooth connection to the Internet)
  • Ubiquity (networked devices are used almost everywhere)
  • Self-control (some actions/scenarios trigger a reaction without the need to manually trigger it: an electric stove, for example, goes into standby mode once the food has reached the desired temperature)
  • Learning capability (e.g. a connected light analyzes the desired light intensity and automatically adjusts it later)

What technologies are behind the Internet of Things?

If you want to understand the principle of the Internet of Things, you have no choice but to examine its technological foundations. Information and communication technologies, both old and new, already theoretically enable the Internet of Things. However, for nationwide networking to become a reality, certain technologies will still need to be developed.

In order to be able to network devices completely, transfer data quickly and smoothly, evaluate them and solve the Big data problem, a few obstacles still need to be overcome: the Internet of Things requires an extremely powerful mobile Internet that could also cope with the immense volume of data that would go hand in hand with the complete networking of machines and a wide variety of everyday devices.

That’s why many developers have high hopes for the new generation of 5G cell phones, which outperforms older standards by a wide margin in terms of data rate per second.

Simple tools such as RFID and QR codes are sufficient to identify objects, collect information about physical states and integrate them into a network. This is already the case, for example, in package tracking for logistics service providers and in goods management. When it comes to automatic evaluation of complex data and self-monitoring, the objects must have the appropriate hardware. This is done according to the M2M (Machine-to-Machine) principle. The term M2M describes a sender-receiver system for the automated exchange of information between two devices: it consists of different components and could, for example, look like this in the logistics industry for remote maintenance of devices:

  • Transmitter or end point of data, e.g. a machine that selects products from a shelf and has motion sensors transmits GPS signals
  • Transmission technology, wireless networks such as UMTS, HSPA, LTE, 5G
  • Receiver or data integration point, e.g.: the server of a logistics company interprets the technical parameters of the machine to be monitored as an error message.
  • Intermediate application, e.g.: API (Application Programming Interface) supports a networked receiving machine to evaluate the data and trigger actions.

The following elements belong to the technical architecture of the Internet of Things:

  • Sensors: everyday objects or devices with sensors, for example, have measurement sensors that record physical or chemical states. They measure temperature, pressure, brightness, humidity, pH or movement. In order to make the measurement results digitally usable, they translate them into electrical signals. The brightness sensor in a smartphone measures the light intensity of the environment. With this information, the screen can adapt to the level of brightness.
  • RFID (Radio Frequency Identification): this technology allows the contactless identification of an object by means of electromagnetic waves. To allow the reader to recognize and locate it, the object is equipped with a radio tag and an unmistakable code. RFID systems have a range of up to 100 meters. An example of an application is in the logistics industry, where containers can be better located by RFID when they are shipped.
  • Location technologies: GPS, WLAN and Bluetooth overcome even greater distances and transmit more information. So, for example, a smartphone can display the nearest restaurant when searching for it.
  • Wireless networks: A comprehensive Internet of Things network is not limited to near-field communication and the short transmission paths of WLAN. The most important transmission technologies are based on 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE) mobile communications, but they are not instantaneous. A newer generation is needed for high data volumes and real-time transmission. In the future, the following standards are expected to advance networking:
  • 5G: The fifth generation of mobile communications standards represents a major step forward in development: 5G can handle 10,000 megabits per second. That makes it 100 times faster than LTE. In terms of capacity, it outperforms LTE by a factor of a thousand. Beyond 5G, most applications can operate in real time. 5G, for example, is the prerequisite for autonomous cars in smart cities. In addition, even large data packets from full HD movies can be loaded quickly via 5G.
  • NarrowBand-IoT (NB-IoT): This radio technology is also an innovation. Although it only transmits small amounts of data, it has other advantages: thanks to its high signal strength, it also reaches hard-to-reach places, such as underground receivers or devices in thick-walled systems. The technology is extremely energy-efficient and works over a long period of time. they could be used, for example, by municipal utilities to maintain basement heating systems that are not supplied with electricity from outside, or to control street lighting remotely.
  • Cloud: These virtual data storage and processing networks are also essential for the infrastructure of a wide-mesh Internet of Things. For example, the Cloud enables the outsourcing of storage of networked objects or the increase of their storage capacity.
  • Embedded computing: microprocessors and thin computing systems only work in conjunction with other devices. On the other hand, they do not require a lot of hardware and software and are suitable for transforming small everyday objects into self-monitoring systems.

What is the purpose of IoT?

The Internet of Things could make every aspect of our lives easier. The prospect of a more comfortable daily life, a more efficient economy and administration, safer road traffic, a more environmentally friendly energy supply and a healthier life is driving its development. From automatic coffee machines, industrial production that responds quickly to demand, autonomous cars and bracelets that immediately detect and report diseases, the possible applications cover a wide range of areas of life. Many activities can be better planned on the basis of data collected by networked machines. Especially in combination with AI systems, objects networked via the IoT operate more reliably and, above all, faster than humans.

In the medical sector, the Internet of Things could collect data on patients, make accurate diagnoses on this basis and monitor their health status around the clock, in many cases patients would not even have to see a doctor.

Internet-enabled objects that constantly exchange information with each other and are capable of learning can predict risks, intervene in a regulatory manner and optimize processes without human intervention. Machines that maintain themselves or plan production processes in a factory in real time save time and money. Self-regulating heaters or sensors, which indicate the exact water and fertilizer requirements in agriculture, also ensure a more ecological and efficient use of resources.

The expansion of the digital infrastructure could lead in the future to a sophisticated, wide-mesh system that extends to all sectors and areas of life and is completely self-regulating.

Smart devices and cities: how is the IoT changing our daily lives?

The revolution in everyday life through the Internet of Things is still to come. There’s no guessing how much the IoT will change our lives. After all, not everyone already lives in a smart home or uses wearables. Innovations such as automated cash register systems, smart surveillance cameras and self-monitoring factories, on the other hand, operate largely invisibly in everyday life or remain in the background. A complete Internet of Things would mean that we would be constantly surrounded by computer systems that collect data and exchange it over the Internet. If such devices are used within one’s own four walls, they completely penetrate the private room.

But a smart home also has many benefits for residents: based on personal and activity-related data, it acts with foresight and facilitates various daily processes. Appliances are self-regulating and do not need to be checked. A wood-burning stove with automatic switching or a self-closing apartment door offer more security.

Many networked devices can also react to behavioral patterns: a fitness bracelet, for example, promotes a healthy lifestyle and alerts the user when it detects a lack of exercise. However, human needs are only partially predictable. Moreover, this technology raises the question: what if things are increasingly dictating our lifestyle? For example, how will health insurance companies structure their rates in the future if they are given a glimpse of a personal fitness program that does not meet their health policy standards? It’s not just ethics experts who are dealing with these issues. IT experts are also discussing the potential downsides of Iot and considering a sort of Hippocratic oath for software developers. One thing is certain: the Smart-Home devices already available are very practical. As an example: the adaptive radiator thermostat from the company Nest taken over by Google can serve. It memorizes the heating habits of residents and automatically adjusts the temperature. A built-in motion sensor detects if the residents are at home and turns off the heating if they are not. This saves heating costs, saves energy resources and increases the comfort of the home. If residents come home early, they can preheat the apartment remotely.

Internet of Things innovations already being tested in some cities show what is possible in the public sector for the foreseeable future. If these were used worldwide, the Internet of Things could make transportation, road traffic, and waste collection more efficient. It would create a complete infrastructure of networked streetlights, garbage containers, traffic lights, and building facades that would collect data through sensors.

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